Study Digital Media: Masters, PhD & Online Degree Info

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Master's degrees and PhDs in digital media can lead to careers in and out of the academic world. Get the truth about the requirements, courses and career options, and find out what you can do with your degree.
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Digital Media Master's and PhDs: Degrees at a Glance

Digital media is a field in which studies of art, technology, and science intersect. In your degree program, you'll explore critical, philosophical, technological, and cultural aspects of the field, and take courses in art and design, animation, video and audio, interactive media, gaming, and web development.

Earning a master's degree or PhD in digital media will prepare you for a number of career options. For example, master's degree holders may pursue a career as a web developer. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) predicted that this field will grow at a faster than average rate, about 22% from 2010-2020. Students in PhD programs often work toward entering a career as a professor of digital media or a related field; the BLS projected 17% job growth for postsecondary school instructors for the same time period, about as fast as average (www.bls.gov).

Master's PhD
Who is this degree for? Students who wish to prepare for careers in commerce, art, entertainment, and other related fields, or pursue PhD studies Individuals who wish to work in academia as professors or as researchers
Common Career Paths (with approximate median annual salary) - Multimedia artist or animator ($61,000)*
- Graphic Designer ($44,000)*
- Video editor ($53,000)*
- Software developer ($89,000)*
- Art director ($81,000)*
- Web developer ($78,000)*
- Postsecondary teacher ($64,000)*
- Postsecondary educational administrator ($84,000)*
Time to Completion Approximately 2 years of full-time study Roughly 5-7 years
Common Graduation Requirements - Required courses in digital media topics
- Electives
- Master's project or thesis
- Internship
- Studio courses
- Required foundational courses in design, technology, computer science, and more
- Electives
- Seminars
- Comprehensive written and oral examinations
- Foreign language or computer language requirements
- Dissertation
Prerequisites Bachelor's degree Bachelor's or master's degree
Online Availability None found at this time None found at this time

Source: *U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (May 2011 figures).

Master's Degree in Digital Media

If you are interested in graphic arts and technology, you may consider pursuing a master's degree in digital media. You'll explore the representational components of digital media: film, graphic and fine arts, even theater. You will also study computer science and programming in this rapidly evolving technical field. Small class sizes are common at many schools, sometimes only about 20 students per class, allowing you to work closely with faculty on research and projects. A number of career paths are available to graduates; you may find yourself working in commerce, interactive arts and entertainment, or information architecture. Some master's degree holders also continue on to pursue PhD studies in digital media or a related subject.

Pros and Cons

Pros

  • Some programs can be completed in as little as 2 years
  • Small classes and research facilities offer many opportunities for collaboration with faculty and hands-on practice
  • May prepare for careers in many different areas
  • Programs may take interdisciplinary approach, offering the chance to take courses in other departments

Cons

  • Some programs are only available full-time
  • Certain jobs that you will be eligible for do not require a master's degree; you will be pursuing the same jobs as bachelor's degree holders
  • A portfolio or work samples may be required for admission

Common Courses

You can expect to take a number of required foundation courses investigating design, technical, and critical areas in the field. You will also take electives - some programs will allow you to explore subjects of interest outside of the digital media program that could support your career goals in areas like business and communications.

Some courses you may take include:

  • Visual culture and design skills
  • Interactive design principles
  • Networked media design
  • New media and globalization
  • Intellectual property policy and law
  • Gaming development
  • Developing Web applications
  • Internet and telecommunications law
  • Social awareness and design

You may also be required to take project studio, seminar or lab courses, or complete a summer internship working in the field. Many programs culminate with the completion of a master's project or thesis.

Online Degree Options

It would be very unusual to find an online master's degree program in digital media at this time. An online master's degree program in digital media should be considered carefully, as it may not be from an accredited institution. Many degree programs emphasize hands-on projects and research, so an on-campus program where you can take advantage of learning facilities and collaborate with faculty may be your best option to study digital media.

Getting Ahead with This Degree

Some careers in the field require proficiency in computer programming languages, so taking additional computer science and programming courses while earning your master's degree may be an advantage to you in the future. Some master's degree programs will allow you to pursue an area of interest outside of digital media studies - focusing on computer studies may be helpful in your career.

Experience in the field may also be valuable. Some programs offer the opportunity to participate in government-funded or industry-sponsored research projects. These opportunities can be great additions to your resume.

PhD in Digital Media

In a PhD program in digital media, you will acquire advanced theoretical and practical foundations for a career in academia and industry. Many PhD programs in digital media are very selective; some programs only accept about 5 students per fall semester. Experience in digital media is not required - students in these programs typically come from a variety of different educational and professional backgrounds. Some PhD programs allow you to earn a master's degree during the course of your studies, though you must be on track to eventually earning your PhD.

Pros and Cons

Pros

  • Previous graduate-level work in a master's degree program may allow you to waive certain required courses, and complete your PhD program in less time than is typical
  • After earning a PhD in digital media, you will be considered qualified to teach in a postsecondary school
  • Programs typically offer high independence while pursuing your research interests

Cons

  • Earning a PhD in digital media is a long, intense process, requiring 7 or more years of study
  • Competition is strong for admission into small PhD programs
  • Working as a professor in a college or university may be stressful as you juggle teaching responsibilities and research pursuits

Courses and Requirements

You can expect to take a variety of foundational courses in design, technology, and computer science as you begin a PhD program in digital media. These courses are very similar to the courses you'd encounter in a master's degree program, and are generally completed within the first 2-3 years of the program. You may also take labs, seminars and electives in the field.

Some examples of courses you may take include:

  • Exploration of interactive fiction
  • Principles of experimental media
  • New media and education
  • Software development
  • Modern culture and film
  • Textual elements of television
  • Visual perception in theory and application

Some programs may also require taking courses in foreign language or computer language. You can expect to take comprehensive written and oral examinations leading up to the writing and defense of your dissertation. You might also be required to take on a teaching assistant role.

Online Degree Options

Online PhD programs in digital media are not common at this time. Due to the small size and intense hands-on nature of PhD programs, residency is generally required of students. Students typically work closely with faculty, and in research facilities - it would be very difficult to replicate the experience of a campus-based program through an online course delivery system.

Stand Out with This Degree

Many students in PhD programs in digital media continue on to careers in the academic world as professors. Competition for jobs may be high, and many institutions prefer to hire professors with teaching experience. It may be advantageous to you to pursue opportunities to gain teaching experience while earning your PhD. Working as a graduate teaching assistant will help to give you the experience that universities look for and allow you to be more confident moving into your future career.

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